November 7, 2006

Vicious Cycle

I hate politics.

Okay, so that's not entirely true. I like politics just fine; I like talking politics with anyone who has a reasoned opinion and a willingness to debate. It's the political process I can't stand. More specifically, I have come to absolutley loathe the campaign process, and the current state of political discourse in this country. It's this time of year, the tail end of election cycles, that I am least proud of the American political system, in terms of the means by which the people who seek to govern get themselves elected, because it is in that very situation where they behave least like the kind of folks we should, as a nation, be putting in any kind of leadership role.

The state of politics in this country has been in a serious decline, in my opinion, for at least the past six years, and probably more like the past eight. The latter part of the Clinton administration was probably the beginning of the slide, but our current president has thrown the nose straight down and punched the afterburners since taking office. It's ironic, in a way, because he spent quite a bit of energy in his original campaign talking about wanting to unite the parties, and work together to accomplish great things. He wanted to be, in a modification of a more recent reference, the Uniter. Since then, he's become the Decider, and by and large the Divider. Regardless of your political leanings, you can't, by any objective measure, point to a single thing that this administration has done to improve relations between the parties, either in the legislature or the voting public. It's as if the word 'bi-partisan' was anathema, perhaps because it involves the prefix 'bi-' and we all know how uncomfortable that notion makes conservatives, compassionate or otherwise. But I digress.

Consider for a second the nature of campaign communication. Specifically, the kinds of things that the various parties and organizations put on television. Nobody really runs for anything anymore; it's all running against the other guy. And nearly every stance is predicated on fear: in the 2004 elections, Bush wanted you to vote for him because you were scared of Al Qaeda; Kerry wanted you to vote for him because you were scared of Bush. That's really all it amounted to, the whole election. And it hasn't gotten any better. It just keeps getting worse.When is the last time you saw a campaign ad that was less than a full-throated assault on the opposing candidate, in some cases for things that are completely unrelated to the issues of the campaign? It's all finger-pointing, oversimplification and a lot of misrepresentation, from both parties. I stared in amazement at the kind of commercials being aired in northern Virginia the last couple of weeks. Not a single positive ad, or not more than one or two. And the level of negative is just off the scale.

Both sides do it because, sadly, it works. In a lot of ways, I blame the American public, because we as a group not only tolerate this kind of trash, we make no bones about preferring it, both in our entertainment as well as our politics. Moreover, we crave it. We really can't get enough of it, the more vehement and brazen the better, in a lot of cases. And forget depth. We can't have that. Just give us straw men, the more the merrier! Any platform position that takes more than a single, three-second sentence to sum up is waaaaaay beyond our attention span anymore. Heck, if we have to actually read something to understand it, it can't possibly be that important. We should be more careful what we wish for, because we get it every time.

As an example, I submit the "Same-Sex Marriage Ban" that looks all but guaranteed to become part of Virginia's constitution. Never mind for a second that it's the 21st century and we're still codifying intolerance and bigotry into the fabric of our government; I could spend an hour on that alone, but not now. The effect of this amendment is pretty significant for unmarried straight couples as well, the way I understand it. No more rights. None. Period. Cohabitating for a few years, got your assets combined and just haven't seen the need to go official? Tough. This amendment is meant for you, too. There is some question as to whether written contracts could even be enforced in a situation like medical decisions. Oh, and common law? It will be interesting to see how that holds up. I wonder if the rural voting community thought about that at all when they went charging out to the voting booth. But I would be willing to bet that the vast majority, rural or otherwise, never read that far down in the language of the amendment. Gays? Married? Well, we'll just see about that. How could it possibly be more complicated? Wait, it is? Then allow me to plug my ears and sing. La-la-la-la-la, I can't hear you....

It's just saddening that at this point in history, our country is at the mercy of the fringes of both parties. It's true, and it will always be true, until moderates start shouting. I firmly believe that there are more of us than there are of them, but moderates are by nature, well, moderate, which makes us a less-loud, and unfortunately a therefore less powerful, group of people. I know very few people from either side that are all that happy with their party right now, but the nature of the two-party system leaves little in the way of options. So it's a matter of picking the lunatics that worry you less and just keeping your fingers crossed. And the conduct of politicans as a group isn't making great strides to inspire confidence, either. It's like used car salesmen and lawyers are just glad that someone is bumping them out of the top spot of people we wouldn't trust to walk our dog, and yet these are the people who are steering this country into the future. Need some Dramamine? Hang on, it might get a little bumpy.

Now, all of that said, let me say this: I love this country, I would far rather be here than anywhere else. I recognize and appreciate that the system in place allows me the freedom to say these sorts of things without fear. I'm not anti-American, anti-democracy, anti-military, or any of that crap; the truth is quite the opposite, so leave that nonsense at home. I am just troubled by the way the game is being played these days. I really don't think it's good for any of us, long-term, and unless something dramatic happens to make that clear, we're going to take more steps back than forward, which endangers our position on the world stage in addition to the problems it creates within our own borders.

But I voted. I did my part. I will say that it was a pleasant surprise to find that my polling station was all of a block from home. But I just wish that the people that I was voting for would behave more like the kind of people we want, and really need, them to be.

I would never have guessed it would be so much to ask.


Mandy said...

I have to agree, and I find that the mindset of "dissent means that you hate freedom" bugs me to no end. If I didn't care about my country, I wouldn't be so upset about it's movement in a direction that I consider to be profoundly disturbing. I wouldn't care, and I wouldn't say anything if I didn't love my country. I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said that dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

And we all know what a Commie pinko he was.

WiB said...

I know, a total hippie. Just look at his hair. Like it's a coincidence that Jerry Garcia's hair ALSO resembled a powdered wig...

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